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Comment: Dealing with the perennial queue problem

Stereotypically we are supposed to love queuing in Britain, which I find very hard to believe. If there is even a fraction of truth in this… View Article


Comment: Dealing with the perennial queue problem

Stereotypically we are supposed to love queuing in Britain, which I find very hard to believe. If there is even a fraction of truth in this then I must have a more diverse heritage than I have been led to believe by my family. This is reflected in my inability to wait in any meaningful queue in shops.

Thankfully, being self-employed, I’m fortunate in being able to time my visits to stores during their quieter times. Clearly we are not talking about all retailers being mobbed at all times. I’m sure they would all love this but it’s not the reality obviously. I’m talking about trips to the likes of an Apple store or other popular places like Fortnum & Mason in the holiday periods and run-up to Christmas.

I can fortunately time my visits with store opening times, which might involve a smattering of people waiting for the doors to be unlocked but nothing like the masses you are likely to face later in the day or, God forbid, at the weekends.

Such actions ensure I enjoy a high level of service whereas those people with less forgiving working arrangements might well have to endure a deficient level of service from marauding shoppers stretching the capabilities of the teams on the shop-floor. To ensure standards do not fall below the accepted levels certain popular retailers have had to consider their options in order to manage customer throughput while maintaining service levels.

The luggage shop Goyard in Mayfair perennially features a queue of some magnitude snaking down Mount Street because the high-end retailer has a policy of ensuring each customer has the full attention of a member of staff. This suggests a rather heady customer to staff ratio of 1:1. Louis Vuitton in Paris is another store that employs a similar policy and I’m reliably informed that umbrellas are often dispensed to shoppers as they queue down the boulevard.

These policies ensure an exemplary level of service to customers when in-store but these poor shoppers have to queue outside to receive it. This seems rather a conflict to me but it’s not something I have to ponder too hard because I’m not in the market for a travel bag of any brand if it costs multiples of the value of an actual holiday.

For individuals who disagree with my bag budgets but share my dislike of queues there is another option: taking their custom to retailers that offer personal shoppers and VIP rooms. This ensures top-notch service without the need to stand in-line with the hoi polloi. This has not really taken hold in the UK whereas it has been a more common feature in the US. But with the globalisation of luxury this might be changing.

Harrods has just added an occasion-wear room as part of its ongoing redevelopment project, which includes a couple of luxurious VIP rooms that can be booked. Meanwhile, luxury behemoth LVMH is pushing such services within its global empire and recently stated that in Japan it was investing in more in-store appointment services, which taps into the tradition of ‘gaisho’ – the at-home personal shopping service that has become very popular post-Covid-19.

Norbert Leuret, head of Japan at LVMH, says: “We are coming back towards the model of personal shopping that we knew in luxury in the 1960s and 1970s.” This issue of queues and service are not exclusively the domain of high-end retail because the same debate is taking place with the supermarkets.

Booths is arguing that an inferior level of service is being delivered by self-service checkouts and it is therefore ditching them whereas the other major food retailers say the technology helps reduce queues, which is what their shoppers are really after, and so they are gung-ho with their roll-outs.

The issue of queues has been around since the birth of retail and will no doubt keep us entertained in 2024 as the debate continues. Until then, may all retailers out there benefit from long queues in all their stores over the festive and New Year period, just don’t expect me to be in them.

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